Lethal Lover Chapter Reveal

Chapter One

Valentina, Age Sixteen

I let out a loud whoop as Jimmy Butler tears down the court at FXT Arena here in Miami. He goes in for a layup and the crowd goes insane around us.


“This was a really great idea.” I turn to Charly with a smile. “I was afraid it might be a little weird…”

Charly nods and takes a long gulp of her diet Coke. “There’s no reason why other peoples’ mistakes have to get in the way of our friendship.”

“True.” I bite down on my lower lip and glance down at my phone. My older brother Dima told me to call if I need a ride home. And since Dad gave me very specific instructions not to tell him who I’m with, I’ll need to show up alone or else there will be too many questions I can’t answer.

The last thing I want it to get caught in the middle of this drama.

I’m only here tonight because I really like Charly and I want to get to know her better. It may have taken us a while to find each other, but now that we have, I feel like I’m being pulled to her, like she’s a funnel cloud and I’m dancing around on the outskirts of it. Every step toward her tugs at me a little bit more.

But something holds me back. I can’t explain it. I just know deep down I can’t allow myself to get sucked inside.

Maybe it’s because of the tiny twinge of guilt that twists my gut when I think of my mother.

Charly jumps out of her seat with her hands in the air. “Yes! Let’s go, Love!”

I jerk my head toward the court, dragging my mind back to the game. Power forward Kevin Love just scored against the Celtics, tying up the score with only a few seconds to go. Charly stands, a big smile stretched across her lips, blonde curls bouncing over her shoulders as she claps and cheers on the Heat.

I can’t deny that this situation is beyond weird but it would be wrong of me to turn my back on her, especially after we met purely by accident. Dad wasn’t thrilled when I burst into his office in downtown Miami a couple of months ago and found them together.

It took him some time to warm to this whole idea of us being…friends.

And none of my brothers or sister Tori has a clue.

I asked questions, of course. But since Dad was pretty tight-lipped about the answers, I gave up. He’s a stubborn Russian. I know better than to test his patience.

So I’ve kept his secret, and damn, if it doesn’t eat at my insides every time I lie to my family…especially Mom…when I’m heading out to meet Charly.

Charly is as locked down as Dad. She lets me in a little bit then pushes me away so that I’m dangling at arm’s length. Never asks me anything about my brothers or sister. Only my mom, and every time her name comes up, it makes me break out into a cold sweat. I try to give her short answers for those questions and then change the subject as quickly as possible.

I found out Charly went to college at Vanderbilt University and now she’s got some fancy job at a sports management agency here in Miami. She handles public relations for a lot of the top players, which is why we were able to score these awesome floor seats tonight. 

There’s something about her that captivates me but at the same time freaks me the hell out. There’s a push and pull, like a perpetual game of Ping-Pong. I want to figure her out but I hate feeling so darned deceptive about it. 

And the reality is that I don’t even know how much time we’ll have together.

It makes me a little sad to think about.

The deafening roar of the crowd rattles my eardrums when Cody Zeller makes a three-pointer from the line, sending the Miami Heat to the playoffs. Players, media, and press rush the court, the fans around us screaming like they’ve just won the lottery.

Charly’s cheeks are flushed deep pink, her green eyes sparkling with excitement. “What an incredible comeback. Come on, all of that excitement just made me super ravenous. Let’s grab something to eat. I know an amazing place for Cuban sandwiches we can hit.”

My mouth waters. Cuban sandwiches. My very favorite food in the whole world. I could seriously live on them. They cover every major food group. The tang of the pickle, the right flavors of thick cut ham and pork shoulder married together with Swiss cheese and spicy brown mustard. A good Cuban sandwich can make me swoon faster than any guy ever could, that’s for sure.

We dodge through crowds of rowdy fans holding up plastic cups full of beer. Some guy hip checks me and his beer sloshes over the side of his cup. It splashes my bare skin, drenching the side of my tank top. 

“Oops,” he says with a leering grin. “Can I help ya dry off?”

I glance down at the wet spot covering my right boob, the part that got the brunt of the splash, and then glare at the guy. “Thanks, you’ve done enough.”

Charly grabs my hand and pulls me away from the guy. A quick glance over my shoulder confirms he’s still got his lecherous eyes on me. 


I shimmy from the shiver that zips through me.

“What was that about?” Charly looks back at the guy. “He’s cute.”

“Ew. He’s so gross.” I rub my hands up and down my arms as if that’ll protect me from what his mind is definitely doing while he licks his lips and grins at me. “Can we get out of here? He totally gives me the creeps.”

We finally make it out of the arena and I follow Charly as she turns left down a hallway. 

“VIP parking,” she says with a wink. “Perks, you know?”

“They’re pretty awesome.” But an unsettled feeling swirls through my gut and clenches tight. I peek over my shoulder. We’re alone and still…something taunts my nerves.

“So where is this fabulous place you’re taking me?”

“Don’t get too excited. It’s a hole in the wall. Tuto’s Place. You won’t be impressed by the look of it, trust me. But they have the most amazing food.”

“Can’t wait.” 

Charly pulls open a large metal door. The sound of my footsteps echoes in the massive and mostly empty space. 

I dart my head left and right. “Wow, with all those people here tonight, how did this parking deck clear out so fast?”

“The VIP parking deck is private. You have to be a player, an owner, or know one to get in here.” Charly points to a black Maserati parked in the far corner. “That’s me over there.” 

She pauses for a second. “There’s a reason why I asked you to meet me here tonight, Val.” 

“Oh, yeah?” I pick up the pace, my leg muscles tensing, pulse throbbing against my throat. 

What the heck is wrong with me? Why am I so panicked right now?

“My company is moving me away from Miami. That’s what I wanted to tell you.”

I stop, my jaw dropping. “What do you mean?”

Charly shrugs. “They want me to head up the New York office. But I think it’s better this way, better for all of you that I’m gone. Otherwise, it’d be too hard to—”

A loud noise reverberates between the walls and makes me jump. I jerk around, grabbing onto a column to steady myself. A guy with dark-rimmed glasses is crouched on the floor of the garage with a jack. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. I’m not an expert with this thing and it slipped. My boss is going to be pissed.”

I narrow my eyes at the guy. But his smile is sweet. Self-deprecating, almost. I hesitate for a second then smile back. 

Charly flashes a tight smile of her own and grasps my wrist before pulling me next to her.

Screeching tires assault my ears. I flip around. A blacked-out Ford Expedition squeals to a stop. The back and passenger side doors fly open and two guys jump out. Charly swerves around them, holding me against her. A strong hand grips the back of my hair, the barrel of a gun cool against my cheek. 

My eyes fly open wide as I catch a glimpse of the guy with the glasses holding it against my face. “Don’t speak. Don’t breathe,” he hisses.

Charley tries to scream when the guys grab her but they smack something against her lips. Her body goes limp in a hot second. At least she fought.

I’ve never been held at gunpoint before. My family is deeply entrenched in the Russian bratva but I’ve always been protected from that world. Until now.

Tears sting my eyes. If I fight, he might kill me.

But if I don’t, I’ll regret it forever. And hell, they may kill me anyway. I struggle against him, taking a chance and elbowing him in the gut. The gun drops from my face and I kick him in the ribs before taking my next step. 

Too darn slow.

With a grunt, he pulls me back by my hair. I trip over my feet and crash onto the ground. I cringe, my knees stinging like hell once they’re raked against the concrete. I scream as loud as I possibly can but since we’re the only ones here, nobody makes a move to save me.

He tightens his hold on my hair and shoves me toward the truck. I land against it, my palms stinging from where they slam on the steel door. “You can do this the easy way or the hard way. Fight me and you both die.”

One of the guys who snatched Charly throws me over his shoulder and flings me in the backseat like I weigh no more than a newspaper. I pound my fists and feet against his thick massive body but he doesn’t seem to feel a damn thing.

I land on my ass in the backseat then scramble to the driver’s side door. I jimmy the handle but they must have predicted my next move because the door is locked.

“Let me out of here.” My voice is hoarse from screaming but the pain is nothing compared to what these people are about to do to me, judging from the menacing looks on their faces.

“Don’t fight, Valentina.”

I choke on a gasp then someone behind me pulls me backward. I’m pinned to the leather seat, my heart lodged in my throat. Charly shudders spasms on the seat next to me. Her eyes flutter, a gurgling sound making my gut twist. Foam pools at the corners of her lips.

“Oh my God, what did you do to her?”

The Expedition lurches forward but still, I’m plastered against the seat.

The men mutter to each other in a different language. One yells at the one closes to Charly.

“Help her.” I scream again when a sharp pinch in my upper arm makes me wince. I cry out at the stinging sensation. Then a second later, my body floods with warmth and goes slack. I slide down in the seat, my head lolling to the side where tremors rock Charly’s body.

My arms and legs lay limp on the seat. A few seconds later, everything goes numb, including my fingers and toes. Lights streak across my vision like they’re being stretched like brightly colored taffy. Every breath feels shallow and hollow, like I’m not part of my physical body…like I’m hovering in space, floating in the air. 

I turn my head. A man next to Charly stares at me. His eyes are dark, his mouth frowning. I blink hard, struggling to see the black mark on the side of his neck. It looks like a pitchfork with a star over the center prong. The bottom forms a letter. I squint but my vision blurs before I can make it out.

I sink deeper into the seat, my eyelids drooping as I study the man. His light blue eyes glare at me, his lips forming words I struggle to hear.

“Val, I told you to call me. Why did you do this? Why did you let them take you?”

“Dima…I’m sorry…” I manage to whisper the words before his face ripples like a rain puddle. With one last breath, blackness swallows me and I tumble fast and hard into the funnel cloud I’ve been so careful to avoid.

Chapter Two

Quinn, Age Seventeen

I push open the door to the VIP parking deck at FXT Arena and stop short with my hand on the metal bar. “Did you hear that?”

“What?” My brother Niall gives me a shove toward our rental car. 

“I heard screaming.”

“I think it’s the ringing in your ears from all the damn Heat fans. Fucking Zeller. The one time he doesn’t choke on a game-winning shot.”

“Someone’s in trouble. A girl.” 

My heart clenches. Our cousin Molly had been taken outside of a pub in Dublin years back. I was a lot younger than her but we were close anyway. And since I was just a young teenager, there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. We lost her to a family enemy who ran a huge leg of sex trafficking ring that operated across western Europe.

“You don’t know that for sure. It could be tinnitus, not screaming.” Niall grabs the keys out of his pocket and clicks the alarm for the Porsche 911 Turbo we rented for our weekend down here in Miami. Once, twice. It doesn’t beep. “What the hell is up with this alarm? Is the battery dead, for fuck’s sake?”

“It’s not fucking tinni—”

Tires screech, shattering the air. A black truck corners a cement pole near us like it’s on a race course instead of in a parking garage.

I jump out of the path of the truck and knock Niall out of harm’s way since he’s too busy grousing about the Celtics loss to realize he’s about to get steamrolled by the fucked up driver.

“Jesus Christ,” he mutters, finally paying attention.

“Something’s up with that truck.” I grab his arm and jog toward our car, pulling him along behind me. “I know I heard someone scream.”

The truck squeals to a stop about twenty feet ahead of us. The back door opens, and I watch, my breath caught in my throat. 

“Get in the car.” I say the words through clenched teeth, my spine stiff as if standing still will make me invisible to whoever is in that truck.

An outstretched hand reaches out of the backseat. Before I can blink, gunshots pop into the air, ricocheting off metal, shattering glass.

Niall manages to get inside and as soon as he unlocks the doors, I dive into the passenger seat.

The back door of the truck slams shut. Smoke kicks up from the tires as the driver stomps on the gas.

“What the hell was that all about?” I rake a hand through my hair. “Go after those fuckers. Don’t lose them.”

Niall lets out a frustrated breath. “The one time we leave our guns in the car.”

“We’d have never gotten past security.” I pull our guns out from under the passenger side seat. “It’s a damn good thing that idiot was a shitty shot or it’d have been us taking those bullets instead of the car next to us.”

“They weren’t trying to kill us. They wanted to keep us away.”

“Yeah, well, they fucking failed. They have a girl in that truck and we’re going after it.” An icy cold chill slithers through my insides. 

“Are you nuts, Q? This isn’t our battle. We’re here to get away from all that shit, remember?”

“Go after the truck or get the fuck in the backseat and I’ll do it myself.”

With a roll of his eyes, Niall slams his foot on the gas and swings the steering wheel around a curve. The truck barrels down the aisles of cars, not slowing down for any of the sharp turns. 

“Stay on them.” I clutch the side of my seat, fingertips digging into the leather.

“Why the hell are you doing this? Do you really think Dad wants our name to be associated with whatever the hell is happening here?”

“Things are so crazy with the crap Conor is stirring up in the city, I doubt he’ll give a damn.” Conor is my oldest brother and the one who’s been promoted to boss of our family. “Besides, he’s broken up enough about Heaven cutting him off since she married Villani. Why the hell do you think he agreed to us coming down here? It’s like he doesn’t give a damn about anything anymore.”

There’s more to the story than my sister Heaven just disassociating herself from my father and the Mulligan organization. She and Conor were both underbosses to my father. Conor is a fucknut…the eternal screw-up…who put our whole family at risk when he killed a drug cartel lieutenant’s daughter. And even after Heaven iced the lieutenant’s ass, Dad still promoted Conor over her. Because he’s a guy. I can’t blame her for making a disappearing act after that shit show.

“You’re not a cop. Or a fucking superhero.”

That’s the fucking understatement of the year. I’m the farthest thing from a superhero. Impulsive, reckless, dangerous…that’s all me. But I believe in getting revenge. And justice. It’s the only way for me to self-protect. My family’s notorious reputation always chased me like an attack dog trying to bite me in the ass. Nobody wanted to associate with the mafia boss’s kid. I was reckless, always starting fights because it kept people out of my way.

The guys in that truck may not have my cousin in the backseat, but they have someone’s cousin, sister, or daughter in there. And they pulled a gun on us. As far as I’m concerned, that’s an open invitation for me to fuck shit up.

“Nobody was able to save Molly. Nobody could help her.” Anger bubbles to the surface, the vicious streak that protected me growing up lights up my insides. 

They see me as an animal so I’m going to be that animal.

It’s worked for me so far.

“Yeah, well Heaven fucked up that night. She was too plastered to do anything about it and the guys got away with Molly.”

Rage roars through me. “Heaven stabbed one of them with her shoe for fuck’s sake. She fought like hell and is lucky she didn’t get thrown into that car, too. We could’ve lost them both, asshole.”

We’re on the street now. Niall swerves around cars to keep the truck in sight. His jaw tightens. “Just because we lost Molly doesn’t mean we need to be fucking martyrs for someone else.”

“Tell you what. You stay in the car and I’ll handle the guys in the truck. Okay? That way you don’t get blood on your new Jordans.” 

Niall scoffs, taking a sharp right after the truck. The driver tries to lose us but we’re driving a Porsche. Never gonna happen. 

The buildings get farther apart. Streets open up and there are fewer cars to dodge as we head out of downtown Miami.

“They’re headed for the port.” I scrub a hand down the front of my face. “This isn’t just a regular kidnapping. This is bigger.”

“Listen, Columbo. I’m not battling a fucking trafficking ring alone in a city where we know nobody. Get it? I know you wanna be the protector but it’s not happening. Find another cause, Q.”

I turn to glare at him. “Then how come you’re still driving? Is it because you know I’m right? That we can’t just run away with our dicks between our legs? That we’re not those fucking guys?”

Niall slams his hand on the steering wheel. “We’re not those guys.”

“Thank you.”

“But I’m also not the guy with a death wish, either.”

“If we play it right, death won’t even flick us in the balls.”

A red traffic light stops flashing just as the truck goes through it and a cop appears in the opposite intersection. Niall slams on the brakes.

“Sonofabitch.” I crane my neck to see where the truck turns. It’s only a couple of blocks ahead.

When the light turns, the truck lurches forward.

“Turn here.” I point to the street. “They can’t have gotten too far.”

The port is close by. If there’s a boat, there’s a damn good chance this girl they snatched isn’t the only one who’s gonna be shipped out of Miami. There’s a huge human trafficking business in south Florida and the bastards get away with it by greasing any palms they can find to get them to look the other way when they’re smuggling girls.

It grates on me that I was too young to help Molly. Dad found the guys who took her and killed every last one of them but it wasn’t enough to bring her back. And if these guys are into the same business, they’re gonna die because now I’m old enough to pull a trigger and plug them in between the eyes.

Niall slows down as we drive down the street. The port is at the end of the block and sure enough, there’s a boat docked. 

“They’re selling girls.” I curl my fingers into a fist and pound on the side of the door. “They can’t get on that boat.”

“Oh yeah? And what army is gonna stop that from happening?” Niall downshifts and brakes about a block away from the port.

I scan the area. There’s a darkened building right across from the port. There aren’t any cars but shadows move through the windows on the lower level. “That’s where they’re taking the girls. I bet it’s an auction.”

Niall lets out a deep breath. “And you wanna go inside.”

“No.” I push open my door. “I’m going inside.”

He curses under his breath but follows me toward the building. “There has to be a back door somewhere. Nobody is using the front.”

We creep around in the darkness until we find a side door that’s unlocked. It creaks open. The hallway in front of us is small, like a tunnel. A chill sets into my bones. For transporting girls in and out of the place. Or for sending them into one of the viewing rooms so that buyers can bid on them.

I did a lot of research after Molly was taken. I needed to understand exactly how these rings worked and what would happen to the girls. It became an obsession, all because we had no closure after she disappeared. Only a lot of my own shattered hopes of finding her and saving her one day.

But that never happened.

And since I’m big into justice, I’m gonna get it not only for Molly but for whoever the hell these bastards snatched.

“Why the hell is this hallway empty?” Niall has his gun outstretched. “If they’re moving girls in and out, where the fuck are they?”

We duck in and out of rooms until I twist the handle on one black metal door. Five girls are sprawled on mattresses, some clothed, some naked.

“Shit.” I creep inside and drop to my knees next to a blonde girl wearing a Miami Heat shirt. Her skin is pale white. I grab one of her hands. Ice cold. A trail of what looks like dried up vomit streaks her cheek. “I think she’s dead.”

My pulse hammers. I stumble backward. It’s not like I’ve never seen a dead body before but this one…this girl…

With her curly blonde hair, it could be Molly.

Did Molly die like this? On a dirty mattress, so shot up with drugs that she choked to death on her own puke?

I jump away from her and move to the girl lying next to her. Her hair is a reddish brown. It’s stuck to the sides of her face. I cup her chin and move her head slowly. Her eyes open a crack. 

“Daddy,” she croaks. “I’m s-sorry I didn’t call.”

Her voice slurs as she struggles to form words. Then her body buckles and she flips over, gagging and heaving on the floor next to her.

“We need to get the hell out of here.” Niall grabs me by the back of my shirt. “There may be other girls here. They’re eventually gonna make their way down here. Let’s call Conor. Maybe he can tell us what to do.”

I shake off his hand. “Conor is probably high on Christ only knows what and fucking some girl up the ass right now. He won’t give a flying fuck that we’re in the middle of this hell.”

“Hell, that’s right. So let’s get out of it before we’re the next ones to die.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” a deep voice grunts from behind us.

Niall turns and shoots but another guy charges him and knocks him to the ground. I grab for my gun because like a complete fucking moron, I didn’t have it in my hand already. 

“Q, watch out,” Niall yells, struggling against the guy on top of him.

I turn…too late.

The barrel of a gun slams into my temple. I fall forward onto the girl.

A second guy tugs a chunk of my hair and yanks me toward him. He growls into my ear, spit wetting my skin. My stomach roils from the stink of stale cigarette smoke on his breath. 

“You’re gonna be real sorry you tried to be a hero, you little prick.”

%d bloggers like this: